Civic Nationalism Finds A Voice

The most significant aspect of the joint letter to the Taoiseach published in today’s Irish News is that it happened at all.

That such an impressive mobilisation of northern nationalist opinion makers could be successfully orchestrated is but another indication of how, in this post-St Andrew’s Stormont & Brexit era, the professional class within northern nationalism is aligned more cohesively behind a political banner than at any time since the immediate post-partition era.

The Nationalist Surge in May’s Assembly election, and similar electoral performance by Sinn Fein in the subsequent Westminster election, indicates how Brexit and the collapse of Stormont have galvanised nationalism in the face of a perceived threat by the DUP and British government to row back on the promises of a shared and equal future as the basis for a post-Good Friday Agreement state and society in the north of Ireland.

On today’s BBC Talkback programme Ben Lowry, the Deputy Leader of The News Letter, claimed the letter provided “an undiluted Sinn Fein analysis of what’s gone wrong.”

In that, he is right, and it indicates just why Sinn Fein have effectively become the undisputed representatives of northern nationalism.

The letter signatories clearly lay the blame for the collapse of our political institutions on the “failure to both implement and defend the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements,” alleging that the result has been “a denial and refusal of equality, rights and respect towards the section of the community to which we belong, as well as everyone living here.”

There was a time when professional voices would not be raised  in such a manner for fear of being associated with republicanism in the north.

That time has gone.

The candidacy of John Finucane in this year’s Westminster election was marked by an unprecedented sense of nationalist unity in a North Belfast constituency more typically marked by the sharp lines of division amongst nationalists historically identifying with either the SDLP or Sinn Fein. Finucane’s ability to attract high profile endorsements from across nationalism was a significant breakthrough for Sinn Fein, and his unprecedented electoral performance was an indicator that, finally, Sinn Fein had managed to decisively break through the class ceiling in nationalism.

This letter will resonate in Dublin precisely because it represents a powerfully collective articulation of voices many in the South would not have associated with Sinn Fein.

In this phase of remarkable political and electoral developments, we can add to the list the fact that, finally, civic nationalism has found its voice.